Mother's Day is right around the corner, and if a bowl of cereal and a cup of coffee delivered to Mom's bedside isn't cutting it anymore, it's time to consider going out for brunch or dinner -- with the whole family. Finding a restaurant that's accepting of (well behaved) children, yet nice enough to retain a sense of occasion, can be tricky business. Locating a place where everyone, young and old, can find something on the menu that they like (and that won't leave you sweating when the bill arrives) can be equally challenging. But finding all of this in a white tablecloth joint that's also casual enough so you won't feel too out of place if your teenager insists on wearing jeans, is a fortunate confluence of circumstances. If you are lucky enough to find this restaurant nirvana, it's still a good idea to make reservations. It is, after all, Mother's Day.
Joey B's is just the place for such occasions. Starting out in a rambling building on the corner of Whitney and O'Connor Roads a little over 13 years ago, the restaurant is a Fairport institution, attracting a steady stream of regulars who are eager to sample Chef Joseph Brophy's food. In 2005, the restaurant moved to a plum location overlooking the canal in Packett'sLanding, providing diners with a nice view and a great vantage point for people watching when the outside deck is open.
Joey B's is a study in contrasts and incongruities that somehow work, creating a restaurant that combines casual service with classic Continental cuisine. Service is almost aggressively casual for a fancy restaurant. The waitresses and bus staff in their mismatched polo shirts are affable and quite knowledgeable, and Chef Brophy claims that over the years the restaurant has built a repartee with the regulars who followed the restaurant from its original location, creating a distinct culture that is unique in the area. Even if you aren't a regular, though, the staff at Joey B's will treat you like you are.
As befits a restaurant in the Continental vein, the bartender at Joey B's mixes her cocktails with a heavy hand. My Hendricks and tonic was deliciously strong, and my companion's blueberry martini packed a powerful punch underneath all that sweetness. A pomegranate martini we had on a subsequent visit had the same pleasantly dizzying effect. When cocktails start off so strong, it's usually a sign that people linger over their meals, and dinner at Joey B's can very easily stretch past two leisurely hours of well-paced service. Tables turn slowly, if at all, here so reservations on weekends are a must. On both of our visits I was surprised to see that people who had arrived before us were still there when we were settling up and moving on, lost in conversation over coffee and the remains of dessert.
Chef Brophy cooks classic Continental cuisine -- a mixture of French and Italian influences filtered through a thoroughly American affection for meat and potatoes that dominated restaurant menus for almost half a century. Brophy learned his craft the old fashioned way, starting as a dishwasher when he was 16 years old, and moving through progressively more responsible positions over the years. In 1982, he started working the line at the Strathallan Hotel. Two years later he was sous chef, and two years after that he was promoted to chef, a position he held until the hotel changed hands in 1989.
From there, Brophy travelled around the state, eventually accepting a two-year stage with Chef Jean Morel. Morel's L'hostellerieBressane in Hillsdale, New York, was, for many chefs like Brophy, the place where they learned the craft and mystery of Continental cuisine as practiced in legendary restaurants like Lutece, La Cote Basque, and La Caravelle in New York City, the epicenter of Continental cuisine in the United States.
Chef Brophy's cooking is an homage to that golden age of American restaurants. The menu is replete with classics: escargots in puff pastry ($6), baked brie ($7), French onion soup en croute, and Caesar salad ($5); steak au poivre ($23), duck a l'orange ($17), shrimp scampi ($16), and sea scallop gratin ($16), as well as rack of lamb, and veal and pork tenderloin ($22, 20, and 14, respectively). Chef Brophy makes a few classically French dishes as well, including his own country pate, a combination of pork, veal, and a smidge of chicken liver with duck fat and green peppercorns that is spicy and smooth ($5). Served with butter toast points, it was delicious with a dab of fresh aioli on and a bite of house-pickled okra to cut through the fat. I was grateful for the basket of hot, fresh yeast rolls on the table when the toast points ran out.
Brophy's steak au poivre was artfully crusted with a mixture of peppercorns, finished with a rich demiglace, and meltingly tender. We ordered the steak medium and were delivered a steak that was closer to medium well, which the kitchen replaced without protest. Both the duck breast and the veal I had on a previous visit were juicy and flavorful, cooked medium rare as the chef suggested, but both of them could have stood just a tiny bit more searing to develop their flavors fully.
The meat on these plates was good, the veg a nice presentation of shredded zucchini, yellow squash, and carrots topped with grilled asparagus and roasted red pepper. The star on every plate, though, was Chef Brophy's scalloped potatoes. Sinfully creamy and rich, made with a perfectly smooth bechamel sauce and topped with melted Grueyere -- I don't think I've ever had a better gratin.
My companion was particularly taken with a shrimp and pasta dish that proves, once again, that everything is better with cream, lots of cream ($18). Brophysautees shrimp with artichoke hearts, spinach, and a bit of red pepper for color, finishes the dish with a white-wine-sour-cream sauce, and serves it over lemon-pepper fettuccine. Surprisingly, the sour cream sauce allows the taste of the relatively mild ingredients to come through admirably in a dish that's sure to please even the pickiest of eaters.
I'm aware that Joey B's offers dessert, I've even seen it on other people's tables, but I never had the wherewithal to manage anything more than Chef Brophy's excellent cabernet sauvignon sorbet (the scoops separated by generous heaps of whipped cream), shared with my companion as we lingered into the evening.